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Abbas Takes Campaign for Palestinian Statehood to U.N.

September 23, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: The Palestinians took their campaign for statehood to the U.N. today, defying U.S. warnings. The Israelis made their case as well, insisting any such move will only make an ultimate peace harder to come by.

Hours before their leaders spoke at the U.N., Palestinian stone- throwers clashed with Israeli troops in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh. And one man was killed in the town of Qusra. But, in Ramallah, Palestinians celebrated peacefully, anticipating their official bid for U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood.

And, later, at the U.N., Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally handed the request to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, seeking action by the Security Council. The U.S. opposed the move. But Abbas won long applause before the U.N. General Assembly.

(APPLAUSE)

RAY SUAREZ: He charged that negotiating for statehood was meaningless so long as Israel continues building settlements in the West Bank.

MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian Authority president (through translator): This policy will destroy the chances of achieving a two-state solution, upon which there is an international consensus. And here I caution — and I caution aloud — this settlement policy threatens to also undermine the structure of the Palestinian National Authority and even end its existence.

RAY SUAREZ: Under the circumstances, the Palestinian leader insisted his people were left with no option except going to the U.N.

MAHMOUD ABBAS (through translator): When we bring our plight and our case to this international podium, it is a confirmation of our reliance on the political and diplomatic option and is a confirmation that we do not undertake unilateral steps.

Our efforts are not aimed at isolating Israel or delegitimizing it. At a time when the Arab peoples affirm their quest for democracy in what is called now the Arab spring, the time has come also for the Palestinian spring, the time for independence.

RAY SUAREZ: The applause turned into a standing ovation when Abbas raised a copy of the Palestinian application for statehood.

About an hour later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood before a much emptier hall with a very different message. He likened the General Assembly to a theater of the absurd when it comes to dealing with Israel. And he warned that Abbas was simply wrong on the issue of settlements.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israeli prime minister: The core of the conflict is not the settlements; the settlements are a result of the conflict.

(APPLAUSE)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: The settlements have to be — it’s an issue that has to be addressed and resolved in the course of negotiations. But the core of the conflict has always been — and unfortunately remains — the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state in any border.

I think it’s time that the Palestinian leadership recognizes what every serious international leader has recognized, from Lord Balfour and Lloyd George in 1917 to President Truman in 1948 to President Obama just two days ago right here. Israel is the Jewish state.

(APPLAUSE)

RAY SUAREZ: Netanyahu said Israel is willing to make painful compromises. And he challenged Abbas.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We’ve both just flown thousands of miles to New York. Now we’re in the same city. We’re in the same building. So let’s meet here today, in the United Nations.

(APPLAUSE)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Who is there to stop us? What is there to stop us? If we genuinely want peace, what is there to stop us from meeting today and beginning peace negotiations?

(APPLAUSE)

RAY SUAREZ: But after 18 years of failed negotiations, there was no sign that talks might resume.

Instead, Secretary-General Ban referred the Palestinian statehood bid to the Security Council this afternoon for consideration. Its fate there is uncertain. A vote could be weeks or months in coming. The U.S. has warned it will veto the resolution, if it comes to that. And in his address on Wednesday, President Obama again urged direct negotiations.

Later today, the Mideast Quartet, the U.S., European Union, Russia and the U.N., urged a return to direct negotiations within a month.